by Tova Horwitz
The other day I was waiting for my coffee at a cafe on Emek Refaim St. in Jerusalem. I began chatting with two women who shared that they recently made Aliyah after spending their youth and early adult years in America. They were studying Hebrew at nearby Ulpan-Or and had come to the cafe to practice their conversational skills as part of their course. On this day they were particularly excited as they had succeeded in ordering entirely in Hebrew, something many Anglos living in Israel and particularly in Jerusalem for over a decade cannot do.
My drink came and we parted ways but that brief encounter got me thinking how each oleh has their own unique aliyah journey. Some emerge from those initial months and years with lots of stories they will (hopefully) laugh about later, while for others the journey is smoother. But we all relate to the experience of leaving something behind (for me, that meant sitting in the sukkah bundled up in a hat, gloves, boots and winter coat) and beginning anew.
Whether you arrive as a child or as a senior citizen there are always challenges to be dealt with–learning Hebrew, adjusting to a new culture, making friends. But for older adults in the midst of busy careers and family rearing, or for those thinking about or already in retirement, there are likely more issues and more uncertainty. Health, family, financial and other concerns can put a damper on living out the dream of aliyah.
Fortunately, the holiday of Sukkot provides a soothing antidote to this aliyah-induced anxiety. After all, dwelling in a sukkah reminds us that God is ultimately in charge. While we do our part to build it, decorate it and invite in guests, what happens after that is out of our control. Will it be outrageously hot, or rain, or will the sukkah be overtaken by street cats? Even more so, God commands us to be at our most joyous during these potentially testing times.
So, too, with aliyah. We garner our faith, do our best, and try to smile even when it’s tough. And then, in true Israeli fashion, we say, “Yihyeh b’seder!” (It’ll work out!)
by Tovah Horwitz
For Jews around the world this past month has been spent preparing for, celebrating and recuperating from all the holidays. Together with the many holidays came many occasions for Jews around the world to linger at festive meals; eating, drinking and especially talking with family and friends. For many, these extended meals occurred after spending hours in the synagogue talking to God via individual and collective prayer.
With all this talking going on, it is interesting to note that speech and language are both inherent and essential to this time of year from a Jewish perspective. Bereshit, “Genesis,” is the first Torah portion and is also read immediately after the conclusion of Simchat Torah, the final holiday in the month of Tishrei. Bereshit tells the account of how once there was nothing, and then with ten divine utterances God brought the world into being. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי אוֹר God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.
The Hebrew words were God’s chosen tool for creation. According to the mystical teachings of the Kabalah, God’s utterances are eternal; the long ago uttered words and their energies remain active in the heavens, constantly and continuously fueling the world’s state of creation. In other words, if God chose to extinguish the creative energy of those utterances at any moment then the world would cease to exist.
Humans, and specifically the Jewish people, were assigned by God the weighty task of partnering with God to perfect and recreate our intentionally “flawed” world. As the only beings created both in the image of God and gifted with the faculty of speech, it follows that a principal way for us to do this is through our own speech.
The power of speech takes on a whole new meaning when you consider that each word we say contains sparks of creative energy that shape the continual recreation of the world. Thanks to our God given free will, it is our choice if the energy we send out to the universe is positive or negative, kind or demeaning, gentle or harsh, productive or excessive.
This concept certainly provides some food for thought, especially at this time of year when many of us are searching for new ways to recreate ourselves and deepen our impact on the world. While some embark on a journey, learn a new skill, tackle a project, or chase after a dream, it seems that one area in which we have a meaningful duty to pursue is the sacred realm of Hebrew.
As the language God used to create the world, Hebrew, fittingly, is “imbued with layer upon fascinating layer of complexities making it an ideal study topic for both beginners and experienced Hebrew speakers,” explains Yuval of Ulpan-Or, the Hebrew learning destination popular amongst Israel’s tourist and new immigrant communities. “Beginners can delve into learning basic comprehension, reading, writing and speaking skills while more experienced and native speakers can explore the mystical facets of the language,” says Yuval.
After a holiday-packed month spent talking to each other, Bereshit pointedly reminds us that each time we speak we have an opportunity, even an obligation, to carry on the 5777 year tradition of creating and recreating the world through speech. Next time when you want to share a thought, use the language of the creation of the world.
Memory is such a crucial part of everyone’s life, yet I for one always manage to forget. Throughout the years I’ve learnt to trick myself into remembering things using different methods. I remember things through songs or short poems I make up, visualizing what i need to remember and leaving notes around the house. I’ve noticed though, that i’m not alone in this court; but is a sorrow shared a sorrow halved?
Instead of just treating the symptom at hand, I decided to treat the problem and looked up ways I could improve my memory for the long run. Research shows that any kind of study, especially studying of a new language, can help with many brain related issues. Learning a new language for example can help postpone Alzheimer and memory loss to a later stage in life or even avert it completely. Better yet, language study can improve the short and long term memory just by teasing it constantly. Vigilance, liveliness and multitasking can improve as well.
Imagine having to translate one language to another simultaneously.. Though a straining task, it is the kind of action that teases the brain and teaches it to multitask. In addition, each new language learned developes the opposite side of the brain. So by learning a new language, you are basically enlarging the portions of the brain that you use.
Last night, while teaching my wonderful student through GDL, we suddenly both realized an amazing occurrence. We started learning together almost two years ago back when she was scared she was developing early Alzheimer disease. Her memory was worse than mine so it seems; forgetting words and phrases were a small problem in comparison to forgetting to attend a meeting or forgetting a person you had spend a lot of time with.
After Two years of learning Hebrew, while we were speaking, she suddenly realized that she no longer feared having Alzheimer disease and hadn’t thought about it for a long time. Even her friends had noticed a dramatic change in her abilities, memory and energy. She had shed 10 years of mental aging since starting with Hebrew lessons.
While talking about the advantages of learning a language, we also found an extra and fun part about it; the amount of self-confidence built up due to succeeding in learning a new language is phenomenal. Every step of the way, every new interaction and every new success boosts a person’s confidence to new levels. At first the success is small and sweet, but over the years it grows and becomes gratifying and ever more fulfilling. Being able to Repeat a song or story that was learnt a year prior and being able to completely understand it with absolutely no trouble is a most rewarding feeling.
My experience with my student proved to me that one can improve oneself, one’s memory and learn new things at any age and grow personally all the time.